Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ronaldo and the social responsibility of athletes

by Beau Treyz

Several weeks ago we got to see the 8-pack abs, the bulging biceps and the hair that somehow looks perfectly styled after Cristiano Ronaldo scored the game winning penalty kick and ripped his jersey to pieces in celebration. Ronaldo is an incredible specimen. It’s hard not to judge him off his appearance and the way he’s portrayed by the media, but I cannot forget that that is not all there is to him. In 2013, years before winning the Champions League title for Real Madrid, Ronaldo said, “Listen, I’m not going to change the world, you’re not going to change the world. But we can help, we can all help.” Appreciating Ronaldo for these types of comments is massive when I think of how much influence he has on soccer fans around the world; recognizing him as a thoughtful human being is just as important as noticing his newest hair cut. It’s also key to recognize that when he says, “I’m not going to change the world, you’re not going to change the world”, he means that it won’t happen instantaneously; no one of us can snap our fingers and make the world a wonderland.

As I’ve started traveling and competing on the Futures Tour, I’ve seen places and people that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise and those experiences have made me question what I’m doing. How can I change the world? How can I help? What kind of help does the world need? What I mean by “help” is making a positive impact on the community I live in, and using myself as a tool for others’ success. Hitting forehands doesn’t help anybody; it really just furthers my own career. To drive past the sheet-metal huts in Cape Town, South Africa and think that they don’t have running water, while I’m spending my life playing tennis is a reminder that there are more important things in the world than tennis; a reminder that there are more important things than the outcome of my tennis career. Although I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do to help the world yet, I think questioning what it is that we do is vital. What I like about Ronaldo saying “we can help, we can all help” is that no matter what it is we do, it’s our responsibility to help make the world better in whatever way we can. At his level of fame, Ronaldo really does change the world by playing soccer. He inspires kids, he helps families bond over the teams he plays for, he gives cities and nations hope; the way he acts on and off the field will resonate and shape people that look up to him. In a way he’s lucky because his own value to the world must be so obvious to him.

Would it make me, a less famous person, feel better if I knew who and how I was impacting people? Yes, I think it would. But is it our purpose to make the world better in whatever way we see fit? Or maybe it’s my own ego that makes me think I can have a positive impact on the entire world; maybe I just think if everyone was more like me the world would be a better place? Why isn’t it enough to have an impact in the community in which I live? Why do I not value my impact as much as the perceived impact I think other people have? Am I still comparing myself to others? I am where I am, and it is my responsibility to do what I can. I don’t mean that I should settle for jobs I don’t want, but instead make my current situation work the way I want my future situation to.

I still hold on to the dream of “making it” in tennis, or in whatever career path I choose after my playing days are done. I would love to play the US Open, or have my podcasts and blogs take off and write for the New York Times; those are goals and dreams of mine. But what I see now is that I can’t wait until those things happen or don’t happen in order to take responsibility for my time. If I’m playing Futures in Greece and there are kids watching my match, to them I’m a big-time tennis player. I have a responsibility to compete and act in such a way that I would like those kids to; my responsibility is the same as Ronaldo’s, only on a much smaller scale. I may only be able to reach a few people through my athletic career, but those people still matter; and the way I act and carry myself matters. I should not let myself off the hook simply because I am not famous and internationally known.

As an athlete I’ve always felt like it’s only the super successful athletes that can make comments like Ronaldo’s. Or maybe those super successful players are just the ones the media covers closer and more often, so they’re the ones we hear about. Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” To me this is very similar to Ronaldo saying, “we can all help.” So far I’ve found that the world is full of competition and comparisons; between people, races, and cultures. But just because some gain enormous followings and affect many people doesn’t diminish the fact that some of us have minor impacts on the world and those around us.

A couple of weeks ago we saw Portugal win the 2016 European Championships, in which Ronaldo played great until a knee injury forced him out of the Championship game against France. As I sit here writing this I can’t help but think how fortunate I have been in life to even wonder how I’m supposed to give meaning to my life; I have time to think about bigger ideas, I’m not focused on survival. I also wonder if I’ll answer these questions I have, or will I ever be satisfied. It may be idealistic but I hope I never stop thinking about how I am impacting the world; because I run into other people everyday and how I act towards others is my own choice, and those choices shape the communities and cultures I live in. Ronaldo was harshly criticized by the media for his sideline antics during the finals, where he was constantly giving instructions to teammates and firing them up. But if he had sat on the sidelines and sulked about his injury he would have been framed as selfish and immature; now he’s brash and needs to be the center of attention; no matter what he does someone will talk about it. I would rather talk about the big picture with athletes, and try to find the meaning behind what they do in the world rather than what they do in the heat of the game, because wins and losses are always replaced with the next week’s results, but an athlete’s legacy can last forever.

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